On the Occasion of my mum’s birthday, may i invite you to talk about death?


Her birthday was actually yesterday, May 31, but when I realized it, my mind and soul went cartwheeling back in time, especially to the long sequence of events that led to her final attempt at suicide…the ‘successful’ one that actually allowed her to be…dead.  I wrote about it perhaps a decade ago, and parked a copy here.  It’s rather long, and as titled, ‘Not a Bedtime Story’.  Mr. wd and I somehow got to calling her ‘Lady’ over the years, and while I can’t remember exactly why, it may have had something to do with the fact that when she was slightly (ahem) inebriated, she’d sort of put on the posh airs of to the Manor Born sort.  It always simply slayed me and made me laugh.

How odd is it that I can’t remember when she was born or when she died? She may have died in 1974, she was 49; my father died of his fourth heart attack swimming in the Atlantic ocean somewhere…at 47, just as he’d filed divorce papers.

We’ve also been very busy with what seems to be the beginning of Mr. wd’s 98-year-old father transitioning toward death.  We both believe that fear of death is the main reason he’s still alive, and when he was more compos mentis, he’d stop at nothing to stave off dying, but all of that is a very long story, and likely boring to others.  The main thing I’ll say about it is that he was a virtual slave to his medical practitioners, especially the crap GP he wouldn’t bail on…because he was a member of his church.  As his mind began to fail rapidly recently, his three children seemed to have slightly different opinions as to What to Do About It, (or not do) naturally.

Fortuitously, Mr. wd had taken the opportunity to speak with him about his own feelings about dying when his mind seemed more rational, and the fact that his meditations centered around…not fearing it.  He reckoned that it might allow his father to open up about it, although he didn’t, but at least he may have heard it.  But in any event, one nurse where he’s living blessedly mentioned the idea that the family would need to decide whether to try and ‘fix him’, or just…’let him go’.  Over the past few days, the staff has reported that he’s been odd in his behaviors, including maintaining that he can see his dead wife, whom he believes to be in heaven.  Is he transitioning?  I certainly hope so, as does Mr. wd.  When I say my apatheistic prayers at night as I waft sweet grass smoke around various family and friends, to him I chant: ‘Let go, Old Man; it’s okay’.

When I took a break from blogging not too long ago, aside from taking more time for meditation in hopes that I’d grow more adept at it, I spent some time searching online for folks in my past to whom I’d wanted to make amends.  One man I really only found due to my finding an obit for his son, oh, my.  It turned out that he’d committed suicide four years ago, and it’s changed my friend B’s life forever; small wonder.  We’ve been emailing back and forth, and it was he who’d introduced me to the term/concept ‘transitioning’.

Now we’ve all heard people use phrases like ‘crossed over’, ‘passed on’, etc., but the long journey B has been on (and to a lesser extent, his wife and daughter) has proven to him that their son is indeed still himself, but in another place altogether, and he can communicate with them in various ways, through dreams and more recently through what one might call ‘mediums’, or those who facilitate communication with those who’ve ‘transitioned’.  I’m agnostic on the subject, but I will say that I’ve had bright flashes of my father now and then, and I do speak to him, as silly as it sounds.  He’d rather magnificently disowned me at one point, but had relented when he and my mum needed me to care for them off and on for a few years.  It always meant schlepping to San José for some indeterminate time, in that parent/child role reversal many of us know only too well: life interrupted, or Lennon’s ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’.

Please allow me to present some of meandering thoughts and questions in a rather stream-of-consciousness (as if that’s a switch) fashion; I find they refuse to be tamed into any coherent linear form.

First: did you know that in many states (like Colorado) suicide was a felony crime?  My mum was chained to a bed in the jail part of Denver General after one failed attempt, for crissake.  If I get what the Wiki says, none do any longer.  At least two states have passed ‘Death with Dignity’ Laws, but the criteria are odiously rigorous, and all involve doctors.  Pffft.  Oddly, I’ve read that suicides have actually decreased in those states since the laws were enacted; what’s up with that? By my lights, anyone over 21 ought to be able to choose the manner and time of their death, and the easy way by Seconal or some such drug, not the messy hard ways most often available.  Perhaps in the manner of Life Alert chains, a Death by Design product on a lanyard, yanno?

But here are a few questions to consider: are you afraid of death, or if not, is it more aspirational than certain?  Do you believe in an afterlife?  If so, in what form?  When I was young, I used to believe that what we believed regarding an afterlife…might just be what we’d experience.  It still seems plausible to me.

Do you believe that suicide is a sin, as many religious people do (or is it just Christians who do)?  Ooof; I just remembered a man at Firedoglake’s readers community who said that he was certain that he’d been reincarnated something like 112 times; beats me, that’s for sure.

Have you nursed or given succor to a dying friend or relative?  How did that go (for lack of a better term)?  I’ll admit that when Mr. wd and I’d discussed having his ALZ mother here, I warned him that I might just smother her w/ a pillow.  Not.a.fan. to say the least…

If you read the Carlos Casteñeda series (whether or not you believe Don Juan was a fiction), you’ll likely remember that he advised that one always be aware that Death lived just behind one’s left shoulder, and that that simple understanding would cause us to live life as impeccable warriors.  It’s a sincerely hard thing for me to remember, as in: do I want to be doing this if this is my last moment in this iteration of my self?  Yep, that can sharpen one’s focus, no?

As far as what’s next, Iris about nails it  for me, and I’d include whether or not there is one gawd, or whatever:

(the lyrics)

And I love this righteous song by the incomparable Bruce Cockburn:

Also, I like this poem by Mary Oliver about death that features the White Owl as pictured above.  ;-)

As death came this year for the late great John Trudell, he said: ” “My ride showed up. Celebrate Love. Celebrate Life.”  Yes!

36 responses to “On the Occasion of my mum’s birthday, may i invite you to talk about death?

  1. night, all; i just punched the time clock, cuz: feelin; rode hard, ‘n put up wet. RL beckons before i sleep. see y’all on the morrow, or not. ;-)

  2. Word. Never an untimely issue, in my experience.

    • welcome to the café, davidly. your avatar causes me to see you floating above and shimmering in the ether of the universe; brilliant. it might even be representational of ‘transitioning’, if nonquixote’s take on it being ‘from the moment of birth’ is so. i hadn’t taken it that way…

      if you have any thoughts to share, please feel free.

  3. Seeing as how the US gov is cutting nutritional subsidies to the poor folk yet again, and medicine of the western way (medical errors) is the third leading cause of death in the US of A, I don’t think you’ll be getting any investors clamoring to produce another Death by Design lanyard, as of course, the patent on that design has been in the public domain for quite some time, the noose. ;)

    Like you, I’ve attempted to find people from my past (in this life?) whom were near and dear in various ways through the decades that I can still remember. We’ve to some extent disappeared from each other in a manner that is close to the separation that sometimes I liken to death. The condition of the current separation(s) from these people is simply a fact of life, as is death, and I do really like the transition language to describe what happens to us from the moment of our birth.

    Out to help some weeds make the transition into compost. lov ya.

    • ‘a noose’; ay yi yi…. dammit, i was hopin’ for a not-so-grisly ‘n messy alternative, ya great idjit! a wee flask of hemlock concentrate wouldn’t be too much to ask for, now would it?

      yes, i can see why you’re interpreting ‘transitioning’ as from the moment of birth; i saw it, my friend B sees it, as beginning the journey to the great beyond. loved the monty python, especially the birth imagery. and yes, going out under the milky way, or watching the constellations wheel about the planet so constantly, is a good reminder that we are just specks of stardust in ∞ of the cosmos.

      nice to see you, amigo. good gardenin’ to you.

      • Certainly, I understood your point about the life alert alternative but the other image was almost as immediate and the attempted “humor,” inserted itself.

        Last line of the MP lyric, “and praying there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,” well that just about says it all for today. I’m usually striving for contemplation and prayer through activity. RL just called with a small job to address.

        Forgot to thank you for your always great tune selections. Those notes went extremely well with my synapses coming back online earlier and with my coffee too. Thanks. :)

        • yeah: “cuz it’s bugger-all down here on earth”. i got the attempt at humor, but yikes, amigo. :-)

          welcome for the tunes. post-RL-jobbing, if you have any responses to my thoughts and queries, i’d appreciate hearing them. i just stuck some things in the garden, myownself.

  4. who owns the body & its products, incl. children? isn’t there a kind of parallel w/abortion & suicide? to a society obsessed w/notions of “possession,” the notion that an individual possesses their own mortality cannot be allowed. next thing they’ll be asking to own their own labor, too. the totalizing system wants to “disappear” certain people at will, and at will to refuse that right to individuals. to master death.

    surely death will still be a-grinnin when it comes for these assholes as well.

    • yes, a strong parallel, thanks for seeing it. both are rooted in christianity and ‘gods will be done’. even the Rulez for assisted suicide are f’up w/ rubbish, including again: doctors as gawds or whatever, six months to live, sound mind, etc. sound mind??? prove it!

      fancy though; in CO failed attempts were a felony (though my mum wasn’t prosecuted once they uncuffed her), just sent to nurse ratched-ville.

      a woman with ALS (the most hideous disease i can imagine) in canada had to take her case to the supreme court; at least she was granted an exception to physician assisted suicide, and the court’s ruling for the rest of the nation will be extant in a year, although i forget the dates.

      love that film, but the assholes: are you pinging the lyrics as ‘only god can help you walk the valley? or just as the polar opposite of ‘lean on me’, and ‘in the shelter of each others’ arms…the people live’ ~ irish proverb?

      • “are you pinging the lyrics…?” more as a memento mori. some of us need to heed that more than others, clearly.

        the dream state & the status of dreams as a (possible) source of knowledge is a big problem for materialist philosophy. obvs ex being freud, but surely not the only one by far. even as far back as Lucretius, he has to offer some rather half-assed explanation for why dreams occur, and the departed appear in them, in his monistic materialist system.

        “It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world (sic), and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.” samuel johnson
        “That the dead are seen no more … I will not undertake to maintain, against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.” ditto.

        of course that’s not 100% convincing….undoubtedly a new atheist type would try to make causal some correlation b/n dopamine levels (or whatever) and experience of ghostly apparitions, visions, etc. an updated blind-me-w/science version of certain kinds of dreams being caused by indigestion.

        • i’m more confused now with your having said the lonesome valley lyrics are by way of a momento mori, as in: you’ll be dust, don’t be so flipping proud of yourself, unless i misunderstand the phrase.

          your dittoing of the samuel johnson passages means you concur, then? i guess i find a little fault with his reasoning that seeing apparitions ‘could become universal only by its truth’, but i can easily see why he posited it to be so.

          interestingly enough in terms of synchronicity, i spoke with our daughter at length about this diary this morning. she had the decided opinion that people who commit suicide aren’t in their right minds at all (i discovered that she reckoned they were all depressed as in the homily ‘suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem)…

          but she told me she had seen a new film on near death experiences which in fact did ballast the idea that next life experiences were created by the hormones (perhaps dopamine, then) released to make death easier, and that the belief system of the nearly-dead kicked in to create the framework of their visions. dunno, but it did make sense to me.

          now dreams are a whole ‘nother thing, and iirc, for freud they were primarily wish fulfillment. the gestalt dream classes i’d taken, again, iirc, said dreams were ways in which we work out conflicts that came up in ordinary life, even if unconsciously, and that every person or being in our dreams were not only identifiable, even if our conscious minds claimed other wise (amen to that), but were also aspects of ourselves (ay yi yi).

          a neighbor’s GF told me that she would see spirits of the dead all of the time, and seemed to be somewhat surprised that not all people did. do they exist in a parallel universe whose time stamp is a bit different than this world’s?

          • remembering death comes for us all. there is no “immortality project” a person can devise, or for most of us, have projected into us by our society, which releases any of us from the fact of death. whatever meaning we ascribe to the beyond, if any, loss of ego, etc., etc., comes to us all w/o exception. Alas, poor Yorick!
            Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,
            Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
            O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
            Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

            i’m not fully convinced by S Johnson, but i think it’s interesting. “what dreams may come when we shuffle off this mortal coil”. sleep: death:: dreams: afterlife/beliefs about afterlife. Dopamine levels (or whatever) may explain why a certain “dream” or “vision” intensifies at a moment in time. I don’t think that explains the vision’s origin. nor its nigh-ubiquity.

            O man! Take heed!
            What saith deep midnight’s voice indeed?
            “I slept my sleep-,
            “From deepest dream I’ve woke, and plead:-
            “The world is deep,
            “And deeper than the day could read.
            “Deep is its woe-,
            “Joy—deeper still than grief can be:
            “Woe saith: Hence! Go!
            “But joys all want eternity-,
            “-Want deep, profound eternity!”
            the finale of the drunken song from FN’s Zarathustra. (also part of Mahler’s 3rd, which is where i know it from.)

            The desire of
            Man being Infi-
            -nite the possession
            is Infinite & him-
            -self Infinite.
            …less than
            All cannot satisfy
            Man…-W. Blake, there is no natural religion.
            a different way of looking at the question. the problem is not the content of belief statements about the afterlife, or the meaning of dreams, but the presence of “infinite desire,” which the intellect then attempts to satisfy (or deny) w/…varying stories & myths.

            is the concept of infinite desire just an abstraction? where does infinite desire exist? the starry heavens above? the unseen depths below? the atoms & cells within? the soul’s 50 or so shades of grey? is it in the world’s books? songs? artes plastiques? maybe. i’ll let you know when i’m done w/the all!

            philosophy [love of wisdom] begins in wonder-Aristotle. wonder in face of the infinite. doesn’t mean the virgin of guadalupe appears in all those tacos. some of them? maybe?

            • whoosh; thanks, jason. bit different than my early morning jaunts into wavy gravy birthday-land.

              for now, i need to go fumble about in the garden, then i’ll re-read all of this, and try to grasp the meaning..

            • yes, i think you’re right that the dopamine, whatever, wouldn’t set the images one saw, nor do i know how ubiquitous seeing apparitions or similar near-death visions/locations/gods/heaven….any of it actually are.

              but as the desire and infinite consciousness *and like images in visions, etc.*, of course you made me think again of carl jung. it’s likely he posited over his many books how archetypes came to be…iconic, but i forget, even if he’d covered it in ‘man and his symbols’ (so many decades ago i read it, but it did spawn some drawings for me).

              so i poked about a bit, and discovered that according to this author who’s pinging off jung’s ‘the cry of merlin’: oh, bother; it’s a pdf that doesn’t copy paste. anyhoo, during some near-death experiences, the vivid visions he’d experience were directly related to what he’d seen and experience after living/traveling in india. anyway, so much about dreams, mandalas rising in us, this reality being…the dream.

              have you any thoughts in answer to my questions? iirc, juliania’s the only one who’s answered a couple… ;-)

            • crikey; this got to bugging me so much that i failed at taking a siesta break:

              “a different way of looking at the question. the problem is not the content of belief statements about the afterlife, or the meaning of dreams…”

              i disagree. when we dream, we are often acquainted with our dark sides, which all of us, of course have, as represented in the Taoist yin/yang symbol, in every yin is a bit of yang, and the reverse (converse?). without acknowledging that truth, we are apt to lie to ourselves in extraordinarily hubristic ways. m.scott peck in his ‘people of the lie’ maintains that at the root of all evil is ‘the lie’, and imo, he makes the case well, even for non-believers.

              we see it all the time in US FP, but also in families, and it’s usually generational toxicity, and doesn’t stop until someone in a generation…stops it. the accepted family narrative in mr. wd’s family would blow you out of the water, all of it aided and abetted by most of them insulating themselves in fundie chrisitianity (mr. wd stopped w/ help in our nuclear family, bless his heart). it may be part o the reason that carl jung was so big on seeking the infinite and *individuation* being so key to wholeness, i can’t say, but maybe, if intuitively.

              as an aside, since i was a kid, i had what might be called ‘precognitive dreams’, many of which i recounted to others, before they became so. again: did i slide into another temporal zone as posited by some in the theoretical physics field?

              do some of the archetypes in visions and near-death experiences simply travel through the noosphere and land in our noggins and bodies?

              well, anyway, i have a monster of a hegg-ache, so i’ll stop now. but when i asked if you had any answers to the questions in the OP, i forgot to say that for many the musings about them are bound to be quite academic. ;-)

              • I was looking at dreams in a more “meta” level, as a gateway to “other worlds.” of course, this does not *preclude* dreams from being about more mundane concerns of the individual psyche. that a dream can be both an intimation of “another world” AND of more particular, local concern (a la, you really need to get that shit straight w/your mother, or whatever), well, what does that tell us about the individual ego/soul and its solidity in “transitioning b/n worlds?” nothing? everything?

                who knows???

                who has the answer? in the face of death, i don’t have any control of the “answers,” if any, to be given “on the other side.” i can hope & believe, but i bow the knee in the dust of death like everyone else.

  5. Loved the mystery song – we Orthodox are big on mystery, as you’ll hear in Rachmaninov’s Vespers.

    I happened to look in a book of sayings this morning, and this would be the one for me on the question of suicide, even though other Orthodox writers, including Dostoievski by the way, have a view very similar to the Catholic one:

    “Fire and water do not mix, neither can you mix judgment of others with [your] desire to repent. Even if a man commit a sin before you [such as taking one’s own life] at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment because the judgment of God is hidden [mystery] from men. It has happened that men have sinned gravely in the open but have done greater deeds in secret, as those who would disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes.” (Saint John of the Ladder)

    In “The Brothers Karamazov” the moment of the elder’s death is a critical one for Alyosha – for he is expecting signs of sanctity, and instead the body actually starts to smell very bad indeed. Which causes many present to make the critical judgment that this man had to have been a great sinner. Alyosha, rather, imputes the occurrence to a failure on the part of Providence, and in that moment his faith shatters. Not his faith in his elder; his faith in God. For a time he walks his brother Ivan’s path.

    For me, when my elder died, something far different occurred. Our little chapel was dedicated to the feast the west calls “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” but we Orthodox call “The Dormition [Falling asleep] of the Holy Theotokos [Birthgiver of God]” The eve of that feast we first sing the Rachmaninov hymn that Jason linked to on a previous diary. The eve of a Feast is the beginning of that day (“There was evening and there was morning: one day”) Twenty years later our priest died after a lengthy illness just as the sun was setting on the eve of the feast.

    Here’s the Exapostalarion [Dismissal] on the eve of the feast of the Dormition:

    “O ye apostles, assembled here from the ends of the earth, bury my body in Gethsemane: and Thou, O my son and God, receive my spirit.”

    • slightly different take than iris’s ‘mystery’, but definitely smile-worthy, thanks. so suicide is a sin, , jacob of the ladder maintains, but only divine judgement decides the weight of it stacked against unknown greater deeds. a good admonition, i admit, although i am not a believer in sin, myself. heh, some junior high catholics school kids rode our school bus back in the day, and they were gleeful about not only sharing the hierarchy of sins, but the girls imparted a lot of the ‘facts of life’ to us (in rather crass terms, of course).

      ha, after my mum’s death, i got a letter from an old friend who’d turned to some sort of christianity since i’d last seen her. she opened with: ‘may god have mercy on her soul for committing suicide’. no understanding of her long suffering, and that it may have been a very rational choice, albeit that the choice was tragically weighted by not ‘wanting to be a burden’ any longer on me and mr. wd. myself, without any belief or personal eschatology in mind, i hoped that in some way she just wanted to…start over, and sensed that she was deserving of a long, long, rest.

      that is indeed an interesting story of your elder. now would he have chosen that, in a way? the timing, i mean.

      but doggone it, i went to find jason’s copy of rachmoninov’s Vespers, and i couldn’t find it; i’d assumed it was on the current Open Menu. but no, i guess i listened to the voices, not the lyrics. lovely, it was.

      • rach vespers 2

        supposedly only true *russian* bassos profundos can sing the final bar.

        btw, sergei r himself was rather diffident about the whole religion thing.

        • John of the Ladder. Sorry you are offended by the word ‘sin’ – would ‘error’ be okay? I know it brings up all kinds of foolish connections, but we all make mistakes, and that’s all it implies. Nobody’s perfect, in other words. And the point was not to judge!

          Thanks for reprising the beautiful music, Jason – indeed, a lot of folk don’t want to be caught up in the ‘officialdom’ of religion, (me as well) but Rachmaninov was true Orthodox in the beautiful music he wrote for the Vespers and for the Liturgy as well. Plenty of Orthodox prefer to keep their faith to themselves. Rachmaninov played duets with our priest’s mother in Paris, so I do understand this. ( We didn’t sing his music in our church because it is very difficult, not because it wasn’t appropriate.)

          • i’m cool w/that. more than cool. ludwig van was hardly “orthodox” (in the credal sense of that term) but hey, missa solemnis. verdi was an avowed atheist, but ah what tuba mirum! if that doesnt raise yer dead…

            (in fairness, like rachmaninov, they are part of a long, rich musical tradition and wanted to contribute uniquely to that tradition. poor me, that finds their “infidel” scribblins so inspiring!)

      • Difficult to say he chose, wendye – as he was not conscious at the last, a day or so as I remember. But yes, his heart could have been waiting for that time.

        I had another different aspect of death to ‘report’ on – this struck me from a very good article by Rob Urie – I just posted on moonofalabama about it:

        “. . .The Obama administration brought this institutional dysfunction to its logical conclusion by filling the skies of the Middle East and North Africa with murder robots and defining the hundreds and thousands of randomly murdered victims as ‘terrorists’ by the fact that they were murdered rather than through any semblance of due process. The economic analog can be found in the millions of well-paying jobs that have been outsourced through trade agreements pushed by the bi-partisan Washington establishment for the benefit of Wall Street and connected capitalists. The people whose lives were interrupted and / or destroyed through the sudden (and often permanent) inability to earn a living (1) bore no responsibility for their economic fates and (2) were just numbers on a spreadsheet to those doing the economic calculations from afar. . .”

        I’ll never forget your powerful first post on ‘Terror Tuesdays’, and in this article to juxtapose that horror with jobs outsourced may not seem balanced as far as deaths to contemplate, but assuredly there have been many tragedies – I don’t think it is too strong a comparison.

        • Sorry, that was supposed to go up under your comment, not Jason’s. I can see your point, my inserts into the quote weren’t helpful. All I meant was that one cannot judge a person on any action, particularly a final one like suicide, not knowing the inner spiritual relationship to what is going to occur to them afterward. Does that sound better? (I trip over my own feet sometimes but wanted it to be a general understanding that my own particulars do interpret differently from many others, sorry.)

        • it’s not hard to imagine that your priest, so steeped in that history and its meaning…might have chosen the timing. at least it’s not hard to imagine his unconscious internal clock still working. but yes, i hear your saying that you’d not judge, so good on you. the sort of suicide that can bother me most is leaving small children behind.

          powerful images by rob urie, and if i remember correctly, the military guidelines for receiving US blood money required posthumous proof that the bug splat was not a terr’ist fuck them. jayzus, somewhere on this site are the lists of the drone-assassination names that the bureau of investigative journalism has compiled in five (?) nations. sooooo many of them were children out tending their families’ herds.

          sure and he’s right about the slow deaths the oligarchs (and heartless and corrupt governors) could give a fig about as they continually degrade the social safety net. infuriating and tragic. i’ll add in a similar vein:

          Rest in Peace and Power, Muhammad Ali.

          • No, that wasn’t what I meant – he wasn’t that sort of person at all, to make a decision of that nature by his own will. Even Jesus at Gethsemane prayed to have the cup pass from him, but then not his will but that of the Father.

            He would have left it completely up to God, and indeed never ever spoke of anything but the joy of living, so I’m sure his conscious self wanted to do exactly that. My mention that his heart could have gone with the feast had to do with the place we Orthodox think we are closest to God, in the heart. That’s where prayer takes place: with the mind, in the heart.

            For the first time this morning I noticed your “philosophy” tag – I would put Socrates in the category of always wanting to live as well – not thinking of his death as a suicide at all. His Apology is a defence of that life, before those with the power of deciding to kill him, which they did. The thing is, I have heard many defenses of homosexuality that point to animals with similar pairing relationships; I have never heard of an animal committing suicide, so that is one philosophical point. All life, I think, would rather live, given the choice. So, while I can’t judge others, my thought on the matter would be that such a decision is, if you will pardon my pun, anti-biotic.

            I will just conclude that my strong feelings do come from having had two very dear friends at a young age out of considerable stress, kill themselves. It’s not something you ever forget or forgive yourself for letting happen. We are all responsible one for another.

            • i’m sorry to have gotten is so wrong, juliania. to the extend that i believe there *might be one god*, i’d go with the folks who believe that god is within us, not without us.

              i dunno the circumstances of your friends’ suicides, of course, but not knowing the extent of their suffering isn’t always down to you as a friend. most teenagers keep secrets; i know that i hid my exquisite suffering from all before i almost committed suicide at..sixteen, maybe? i was fully convinced, after being the family punching bag for years, that my absence would benefit the family.

              the only thing that stayed my hand was my sole out-of-body experience. a whooosh, and i was sitting on a large tree limb outside my bedroom window looking in at myself, still sitting on my bed. a moment of personal subconscious grace, who can say? no one i’d believe, methinks.

              p.s. doesn’t life science say that only humans realize that they are mortal in the animal chain?

  6. How to approach the questions?

    The other reason that people were surprised to find Dorothy Parker still alive in the 1960s was that she constantly wrote about suicide. People just naturally assumed that when her literary light was snuffed out by the Great Depression in 1929, she encountered some sort of similar fate, overlooked in the general melee of disasters. Her most famous suicide poem is this one:

    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

    Some of those practical conditions have changed since Parker wrote the poem, but there is the bothersomeness about the whole business.

    Insight 1: Suicide requires an act of will. Or for some cultures, willfulness or defiance.

    From the point of view of cultural history?
    Archaeologists mark certain items and patterns as evidence of consciousness of death. And trace the organized symbolic attempts to deal with death to certain dates in the past. They seem to be among the most unique forms in any culture. In my own consciousness, the cultural communication of awe through whispered speech is something I noticed in my pre-school years – 4 or 5. “Hospital” was one of those words, but I did not then associate the whispered tone with death until my grandfather died when I was 8. Not that there was not talk of people passing away of queues of people going through flower-scented rooms by a wooden of metal something-or-other that I saw only the underside of. At my grandfather’s funeral, his sons and a couple of neighbors carried that thing down the front steps of the farmhouse to a black station-wagony vehicle, we drove in a procession the mile down the sandy road to the church where he was chair of the building committee and deacon, they carried him into the front of the church, there was some singing and words that at 8 I didn’t completely understand, and then they carried him out again and transported him in the vehicle to just across the road to the cemetery, where under a big green tent, they said some more words and a song, and then left in what some folks said was “Saying goodbye to your grandpa” and others said “He’s gone on to a better place.”

    And that was more recognition of death than the culture Jessica Mitford wrote about midcentury in The American Way of Death.

    And then I and my classmates lost schoolmates to leukemia and spinal cancers, and classmates lost their mom to liver cancer. The family of a very good friend in Boy Scouts made sure that the Eagle Scout mom’s necklace that she would have received the night of her death (coincidences?) was buried around her neck. By then I had grown enough to see that Southern “visitation” was always of open caskets and rouged faces. The simultaneity of simulacrum and identity is jarring when you are young.

    I don’t know when clergy and families started to be more determined to be honest about the reality of their particular relatives’ passing, but the first notice I took of it was a clergyman’s article “The Day My Father Died” that described him scrubbing off the rouge so that the friends, neighbors, and family could see the dignity of his dad in his dad’s own personal state.

    Not long after this literature introduced me the the (at least literary) distinction between dying (the process) and death (the state of being). Was that D.H. Lawrence’s wry ditty that I cannot now find? “It is not death….not death… but dying…”. It had a bouncy rhythm to it. It is the mystery of from here (wherever that is mystery) to there (wherever that is mystery) that most unsettles me; I think that’s a common human reaction; no matter how familiar it becomes, there is that tinge of some emotion still there; it never loses its punch.

    That is very much a cultural history (European culture version) view.

    Then there is the scientific view. It is almost a scientific definition of “life” that it “dies”, the great binary counterposition. And not just disappears, like rock in erosion, but some other fundamental transformation that stops what? The fixing of energy from outside the body of the organism into storage within the organism? Not the psychic energy of folks like Annie Besant, but the light, heat, motion, chemically stored in other organisms. The other harsh scientific reality: life “feeds” on life.

    This over the last six or seven centuries has become rather detailed and specific in its views such that possibly no one individual can grasp all of the major insights of the collective scientific knowledge of life and death that human energy has produced. There is in practice a real limit to human omniscience individually and collectively. What is outside that limit of consciousness gets deemed ‘mystery” in the most mundane sense.

    Then there is a phenomenlogical (to use a European thought-form) view that is very contested in discussions to the point of becoming (from the scientific view) matters of belief not in the explanations but in the data themselves. Of necessity, this view is limited to human beings’s experience of phenomena. What is seen there is the outward view of human and animal behavior (for now) and the inner consciousness and observation of phenomena expressed through language. Which is why anything this view can illuminate is limited to human beings and a few animals who (and this is a contested point) communicate with particular human beings.

    It is here that we go to struggle to describe what we have perceived or sensed (to the extent that those are different) about that which is past, that which is attibuted to spirit (the real breathy stuff), and that which arises from (for lack of more accurate terminology) different states of consciousness or different states of being. It is here that we encounter the fact that there are limits to omniscience in how we can “pass over” into another’s consciousness, a point that John S. Dunne in The Way of All the Earth nonetheless urges us to attempt if only to expose ourselves to the common(?) mystery at the heart of existence.

    “Why does man [generic human, in post-feminist times] die?”, asks Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba of his over-educated narrator of Zorba the Greek. “What do all your books tell you about that?”

    The young narrator replies, “The agony of not being able to answer that question.”

    And I would add the increasing agony of trying to use Google to get quotes from D. H. Lawrence and Nikos Kazantzakis, two figures last popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

    • thank you for including this that i hadn’t seen this tucked into your long comment in the mail version: “It is the mystery of from here (wherever that is mystery) to there (wherever that is mystery) that most unsettles me…” yes, i reckon no matter our aspirations to not fear death, it’s the dying time that will test our beliefs, unless one is totally convinced that the next journey will be to heaven or some such location.

      that got me to musing about mormon (LDS) eschatology, not only a corporeal god answering questions upon admittance, but the variants allowed between the genders. oy; why do not more women rebel? ;-)

      to me it’s noteworthy that you went to grandpa’s funeral; i’d thought it was more common to ‘leave the kids at home, lest…” (whatever parents feared might occur). hard to answer questions, perhaps? but i still can remember being in the glassed-in porch of a white two-story house repurposed as a funeral home when a relative died in southern ohio. was i separated from the others? likely so. but what i did like was that funerals were often by way of infrequent family reunions, and quite jolly w/ lots of food.

      i loved the zorba exchange well enough to look for it.found it at imbd:

      Alexis Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
      Basil: I don’t know.
      Alexis Zorba: What’s the use of all your damn books if they can’t answer that?
      Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like yours.
      Alexis Zorba: I spit on this agony!

      and the dh lawrence ditty; might it be this one?:

      “We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
      and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us
      and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.”

      • Not D. H. Lawrence but e. e. cummings. Here it is:

        Shape: dying is fine)but Death by E.E. Cummings
        dying is fine)but Death


        wouldn’t like

        Death if Death

        when(instead of stopping to think)you

        begin to feel of it,dying
        ‘s miraculous

        cause dying is

        perfectly natural;perfectly
        it mildly lively(but


        is strictly
        & artificial &

        evil & legal)

        we thank thee
        almighty for dying
        (forgive us,o life!the sin of Death

        Stunning, isn’t it. “s’miraculous”. I’m grateful the “leetle gray cells” cooperated today.

        • oh, sure, m. grande idjit poirot, , pretend yer errant ‘leetle grey cells’ weren’t the cause of my long, long, long seconds of teh-binging. cripes, in my dotage in your email, i did a ‘lawrence of arabia’ ping. go sit in the fooking corner for twenty minutes.

          but you did remind me of ee cummings’ ‘when got lets my body be…from each brave eye shall sprout a tree; or close (i’m too tired to look it up), but iirc, it ended with ‘an death is only a parentheses’ (or was that a dffierent poem?). dayum, it was one poem i used ta know by heart, lol.

          loads of people laughed at dan millman’s ‘the death of a peaceful warrior’, but in the end he saw his death that way; becoming part of the ecosystem. all of my family have been cremated; pretty funny cuz one board mr. wd serves on as a public service is…the c3met3ry board. he wants t be creamted; i tell him ‘hell, no! the kids have promised to get a backhoe to dig a hole deep enough to drop you and your easy chair in, and cover ya up, just like roy rogers buried Trigger. there are a lotta dead horses out in the dryland to keep ya company!’

  7. ah, jeez; i hope you’ll talk to one another. i watched these more recent comments come in via site emails, and while i have some thoughts, including sure, we can bring virginia wolf letters, mebbe sylvia plath and yes, ‘errors’ is better than ‘sins’, but isn’t part of the christ credo that ‘we’ are born in sin, he died for our sins’? nah, i guess i don’t sign on to any of it.

    the jewish day of atonement, yes. but then, as i understand it, they don’t believe in life after death, so: get it right NOW!

    but along with all the site emails came many from mr. wd’s two sibs, one of which had told more about papa’s unusual ‘transitional behavior’ (as i see it) reported by the staff where he resides.

    one was that they found that he had taken all of the cash out of his wallet and rubber-banded it around his ankle. of course it pinged for me the ionic image/tale of paying charon the boatman to cross the river styx. of course that’s silly of me, but still…

    for me, i did several sessions in our wee garden, transplanting seedlings that grew tall enough in the cold spring…that weren’t eaten by the 28 mr. wd has trapped. the peonies are unusually huge and full, lilies and the giant pacific giant delphs are budding, and goddam if the first swallowtail didn’t flit through on its way to an assignation somewhere.

    ll of which is to say RL needs, yada, yada, and if i offended anyone along the way…i’ll (ahem) try to set it straight tomorrow. ah! on a brighter note, i think five more people ‘followed’ the café (however one does that), and i reckon that i provide the vehicle, and that y’all provide the conversations; good on ya.

    dream well and meaningfully, even if the dreams are induced by bits of undigested potato. ;-)

    on edit: i remember my first funeral vividly, and the next few as well. but what i’d hoped against hoped for was that y’all would say what your beliefs/hopes are about death and the process of dying, and the other queries as well.

  8. jason, i’ll answer you later. my ‘realities’ are a bit entangled at the moment, as it turns out mr. wd’s father took a few turns for the worse, and i need to do a little investigating of medical testing procedures. mr. wd’s brother traveled far to be with him now, and what he’s reported today has me wanting to to a major whack at his crap primary doc. grrrrr. please let go, old man!

    anyway, it triggered a need in me to post the final three graphs of my ‘not a bedtime story’. (perhaps i’d oversold the length of it, or mebbe you”d read it before?)

    “By and by I sorted out my feelings: the immense loss, including the grief of discovering that it was impossible to provide another with the desire to live; the idea of being an orphan, even an adult orphan. I felt the everyday missing, which includes the forgetting; the oh-I-can’t-wait-to-tell-Lady-this moments, only to be brought up short with the forgotten realization of her permanent absence.

    All that, plus the hardest one of all: the admission of Relief: I would never have to go through those episodes again—the fear, the anguish, the Next Steps. It was over. We would have a ceremony and sing some songs, and spread her ashes in our rented apple orchard, and be able to breathe better now. We never would have wished for this, but the Relief Factor was considerable.

    Goodbye, Lady. God, I loved you; we loved you, and the dogs loved you; and how I wish our kids could have known you. We told them all their lives how much you would have loved them. They loved to hear about that.

    and they sure did; still do, in fact.

  9. Simply, here and gone.

  10. This sort of goes with my “anti-biotic” statement – and good for Cheri, nice to hear about her continuing dedication there:


    March for Our Lives, indeed!

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